The Baron

By John Walker on November 7th, 2007 at 12:03 pm.

A while back Emily Short posted a link on Play This Thing to adventure game, The Baron, created by Victor Gijsbers. I’ve always had a deep-set love for text adventures (I’m sure the term “interactive fiction” makes everyone feel very intelligent, but they’re text adventures, and that’s how it should be). I remember sitting with my dad at the age of 10, helping him playtest Level 9 adveture games like Ingrid’s Back!. It would seem like the beginning of the career that was to come, if I hadn’t spent my teenage years aiming to become a microbiologist. As it was, it was planting the seeds of reality in my brain for when that inevitably failed.

Recommended specs: 3.0GHz Dual Core, 4Gb RAM, 720Mb 3D card

I saw PTT’s link to The Baron, read that it was a game about moral choices rather than simple adventuring, and thought I’d check it out. I didn’t, however, read the rest of the entry – and I recommend you don’t either before playing. But then, at the same time, part of me wants to protect you and beg you not to play it at all.

There’s a thousand annoying cliches along the lines of “text provides the best pictures” (which was certainly proved true in the late 80s when text adventures started coming with those laboriously rendered line-by-line drawings every time you walked to a new location), and to embrace them slightly, my imagined graphics for those games still beat out the greatest employment of Shader 3.0 textures. However, with age and technology, I’ve certainly become a lot more impatient with games. Text adventures prove harder to sink into, which probably proves me to be a dreadful graphics freak.

The Baron begins as an experiment in futility – a fascinating exploration of someone’s inability to change the inevitable repeating pattern of their life. As you set off on a quest to rescue your kidnapped young daughter from the evil Baron – made all the more sinister by a note left saying he has to be with her as he loves her – you have a righteous task in place. Which makes the implications of your inevitable failure so very interesting. And then it changes.

I was so deeply affected by this game that after finishing it the rest of my day was pretty much a write-off. I was emotionally ruined. I say this because I want to put up a massive neon warning sign before people play it. But I really think people should play it.

You’ll need something like Frotz to play the z8 file. And let’s have spoilers in the comments. Post your response to playing below.

__________________

« | »

, , .

35 Comments »

  1. Jon says:

    I’ve just downloaded and started it, I’m worried by what is ahead of me.

  2. Piratepete says:

    intriguing

    *rubs chin*

    but can I let the wife see me play this after investing over £1000 in my new PC. Probably not :)

    (Sorry am I allowed emoticons on this site?)

  3. Jon says:

    I reached a stage where I don’t think I want to continue, I can only imagine what things I have done to my daugther and none of them are good.

  4. John Walker says:

    While you’re right Jon, and there’s nowhere good to go, it’s worth finishing. Its questions are poignant and intelligent.

  5. Jon says:

    I’ve played through once, I hope next time I will pick better options.

  6. Jon says:

    I tried again for a happy ending, but I fear there isn’t one. And that worries me more than anything.

    I’m going to make some lunch and try again, I can but hope I’ll do better next time.

  7. Feet says:

    Never really done text adventures before so I’m having a go.

    So far I’m really enjoying it, I’ll let you know how I get on once something significant occurs.

  8. Ben Hazell says:

    The trouble with spoliers in the comments section, is that the latest comments pop up on the main page with no spoiler warning. I don’t know if this is going to bother anyone, but I thought I’d mention it before it happens – you know how people can get about spoilers!

  9. Dracko says:

    I generally love IF pieces, but this one left me cold. It’s down to the hackneyed writing and the offensive lack of subtlety. I mean, it’s fairly obvious what the twist is going to be within the first few minutes of play, and when you finally do reach the conclusions, it just beats you over the head with its point.

    Good idea, shamefully poor execution.

  10. wiper says:

    Dracko: not quite so blunt, but when I played this (a couple of years ago, I think), I remember being a little disappointed. That the opening is somewhat hackneyed was fine – that’s clearly intentional, as your dream is clearly meant to reflect a typical heroic fantasy setting. The ending was what disappointed, as it was a bit too obvious what was coming (though I don’t remember being particularly upset with the way the ending was written): the question is whether it would have been so obvious had I not read a description of the game beforehand which, while spoiler-free, did give away that there would be a twist (much as John’s article does here).

    I did actually enjoy it, but didn’t find it as emotionally involving as I might have (in all fairness, I’d probably been spoilt by the exceedingly well-written but somewhat non-interactive Photopia)

  11. John Walker says:

    Dracko: Oh Mr La De Da. I thought the writing was good, and I certainly didn’t guess the twist.

  12. Jon says:

    In an attempt to prevent spoilering this to people who don’t want to read the comments I shall now recite twinkle twinkle little star.

    Twinkle twinkle little star,
    How I wonder what you are,
    Up above the world so high,
    Like a diamond in the sky….

    Right that should be enough.

    So on my latest run through I allowed the wolf to kill me and then became the wolf, I also burned as much of the castle as I could to the ground. Rather than go into maartje’s room I killed myself on the landing.

    I can see what Dracko is talking about, it is very predicatable, starting with your death though [even if it is but a dream] I felt was interesting.

  13. Dracko says:

    John: Well, all the more power to you. How am I supposed to answer that one? You didn’t guess at the twist, I did. Okay. If it was a good story, neither would have mattered and it would still have managed something of value and resonance.

    There’s certainly no need to be dismissive or borderline insulting. You’ll excuse me if I expect somewhat quality writing in a piece where it’s, you know, writing-heavy. Maybe something got lost in translation? But no, the Baron, past the initial and intriguing dream, turns sour pretty quickly. The trials you face are all appropriate, but ultimately under-explored, and leave you very little to work with in the final segment, especially when it’s obvious how it’s all going to end either way.

    It’s not bad, and it isn’t what I’m saying, but it fails to deliver or stress with any degree of genuine depth its message. It’s rather quite like someone reading a newspaper article on some Zeitgeist issue then shitting themselves screaming. Good intentions don’t mean a whole lot here. There’s no true exploration of the subject apart from a fairly bog-standard psycho-drama.

  14. John Walker says:

    Calm down, you over-excitable man.

  15. Dracko says:

    What makes you think I’m excited?

  16. John Walker says:

    I have no issue with your not liking the game, obviously. I do take issue with people who pronounce twists are “obvious” in such a way that essentially calls everyone who didn’t guess stupid.

    I’m surprised that you find the writing quite so poor. You describe it as if it were the scrawl of an illiterate fool. I read it as someone embracing the language and tone of traditional text adventures, in such a way as to create a further sense of denial for the main character. The final scene did not appear to “beat me over the head”. If anything, I found it gave me room to still want to think it must be something else – I must have another option other than being her abuser – before I had to shed my own denial. Then the questions seemed surprisingly impassive, leaving me with my own answers and choices. Your venom for the game seems quite remarkable when it seems to be doing an awful lot that I’ve never seen anything else do.

  17. Bob Arctor says:

    The ending is harder to guess than say The Usual Suspects. Although this of course depends which options you chose.

    Very good indeed, thankyou John for telling us of this.

  18. ninjasuperspy says:

    Man that was dark. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve played too many games/watched too many movies/read too many books, because I had suspicions about the ending from the gargoyle onward. Not to say that the “twist” so to speak invalidated the rest of the work. This is no “High Tension,” it looks to me like the main character for most of the work was created in order to be an idealized version of the actual, flawed man. I mean look in the mirror before you leave the house, look at the furniture. He’s all pride and muscles. Everything he made is well-crafted and shiny.

    I killed the wolf the first time through and was surprised by my genuine feelings of remorse for my actions. I forgave the gargoyle was was actually worried about letting him fly off. I still can’t figure out how to free the mother doll in the torture chamber, and that (along with Hilde’s pretending to sleep in the beginning) bring more to light about the actions of the “Baron.” The piles of identical letters in the bottom of the tower gave me pause, that was a good scene. I’ve also absorbed, killed and forgiven the Baron. Nothing really different there.

    I’ve got a confession, I was stumped by the doors for a while, then I though “Man, what do you do with a crown?” And I put the dang thing on. For some reason I though it was like the coat, something the character just put on automatically.

    And there is no good ending through those doors. I’ve gone over it a few times and can’t find anything that could be considered “good.” The suicide is about the best I can manage from a “not going to hurt anyone again” standpoint. This was written by a dude from the Netherlands, you say? Never could have guessed. Thank God that it is New Comic Book Day, and I’ve got a helping of Hellboy and Lobster Johnson waiting for me, or this day would be completely shot.

  19. Damien Neil says:

    There’s a…not good, but as good as could be hoped ending through the doors. Walk into the next room, turn around, and walk back out again.

    The plot twist is something of a cliche in interactive fiction, although the stereotypical version would end with the discovery that the dragons, wolves, and whatnot that you lay waste to along the way were the innocent victims of a delusional serial killer.

    I think my main disappointment with the work is that it offers too much freedom with too little consequence. You can make any choice you want at the end, from suicide to rape, and yet none of them really result in any expansion of the story.

    To put it another way: When I play a nonlinear game like this, I want to go back and try different paths to see how it changes the story. Here, the various elements of the story seem disconnected–whether you kill the wolf, the wolf kills you, or you both survive, the story blithely moves on without noticing. You still end up standing there at the end with the same choices ahead of you.

    In contrast, take a look at Andrew Plotkin’s Spider and Web.

    No, really, take a look at it. It’s amazingly good, although it takes a bit longer to get through than The Baron. Here’s a link: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/Tangle.z5

    There’s a moment in Spider and Web that…you haven’t played it yet, have you? Shame on you. Okay, avoiding too much in the way of spoilers, there’s a moment in Spider and Web where the game looks at you, takes stock of every action you’ve made up to that point, and tells you who you are. Or who the character you’re playing is, at least. That’s interesting; the game is reacting to what you did, and it’s doing so in ways that you didn’t expect. It makes you (or me, at least) want to go back and do things differently to see how you can change things.

    The Baron would be a better game and a better story if it didn’t cede so much intention to the player. In the best works of IF, the story develops from a conversation between the player and the author–the player says, “I do this”, and the author (by way of the game) responds, “Yes, but if you do that, then…” Here, the conversation is mostly one-sided: “I do this”, says the player, and the author nods and agrees, and it ends there.

  20. Dr.Gash says:

    I played this through last night and found it a very satisfying experience. I’m glad it was recommended and I would wholly recommend it to others.

  21. Jon says:

    I’m a little bit tempted to go and write some IF now…. *downloads stuff to do so*

  22. John Walker says:

    Jon – link us to your results.

  23. wiper says:

    Jon: Aye, on the off chance you haven’t found it yet you’ll probably want to try Inform 8, it’s by far the easiest language to start off with.

    And Christ I’m glad that Mr. Neil mentioned Spider and Web – I’d nearly forgotten it. Tricksy little game, but absolutely astonishing plotting. I may play it through again, I imagine it’ll give a hefty challenge even now. Once I’ve finished replaying Ad Verbum, at least (a little light entertainment between darker meals)

  24. Dracko says:

    Oh now, Spider and Web, now that’s mint stuff. It’s like playing through an Æon Flux short.

  25. Brant says:

    Well, I liked the game, even if it was overly dark. I’ve tried text adventures before, but they’ve always been a little too opaque for me to really get into. I seem to have more luck with the shorter, free-form style of games like this and Galatea.

  26. KOri says:

    I really liked this, its no “A mind forever voyaging” but great still. Is there a walkthrough or guide to read all the possible endings?

  27. Jon says:

    Jon – link us to your results.

    Currently I am reading as many IF as possible, and I’m trying to figure out which I’m more interested in, story or puzzles. On the whole I feel the two should be developed hand in hand so it might be a while before I have a full game to show. But don’t worry as soon as I have anything I feel is anywhere near worth talking about I’ll send it to you first.

  28. inle says:

    Checked out this post to see what this big-budget-game-oriented-yet-very-well-written blog made of The Baron. Slightly surprised to see it’s a little flamey in here. It seems there’s a bit of cultural disconnect. Namely, between those familiar with the great and small works of IF, and those who aren’t. For many (certainly for me), confronting the depth and complexity of modern IF after long-ago memories of Infocom and the like can be a delightful smack in the face. I remember about six years ago finding I could play (through internet trickery) the great text adventures I thought lost to time. Then I discovered a communtiy of people were still writing them, simply for themselves and each other. Then I played Photopia. Then I was staring at my screen in tears. Then I was hooked. Since, I’ve played the horrible and the amazing, the amateurish and the brilliantly written and the well-concieved but badly made. The Baron? It falls in the middle for me. I see how new eyes could see it as ground-breaking, and its ambition is admirable, but it falls short for me of the genuinely thought-provking, such as Slouching Towards Bedlam, or the cathartic, like Ramses (check these out!). To be honest, I’ve become used to a better class of pure writing talent when it comes to “serious” IF–though in Mr. Gijsbers defense, English is not his first language. Yet I think it is a worthwhile play experience, and hopefully it’ll spur people here to try more IF.
    Oh, and about the use of the term “interactive fiction”:
    That term was used by Infocom themselves, so it goes back a bit. It doesn’t mean “It’s not a game, it’s art”; we still play IF, they are still called games. It may have been a bit snobby or pretentious then, but its simply what everyone who writes them or plays them calls it now, and has been for over a decade. “Text adventure” got ditched mainly because it implies a specific genre. Call it all text adventures if you want, but someone who uses the term interactive fiction isn’t automatically a wanker.

  29. John Walker says:

    Thanks for your comments inle – really helpful stuff. I’m building a library of IF to try out.

  30. Dracko says:

    This is worth a mention when it comes to IF or story-telling in gaming: Douglas Adams did a documentary on the subject of hypertext called Hyperland, which you can see on GoogleVideo. He wrote some IF himself, namely on LucasArts’ Labyrinth and Infocom’s Bureaucracy. Not to mention Starship Titanic.

  31. fluffy bunny says:

    “Then I played Photopia. Then I was staring at my screen in tears. Then I was hooked.”

    The exact same thing happened to me. I wish I could wipe my memory of that game, and experience it all over again. I honestly don’t think any other game has had such an emotional impact on me as Photopia did.

    As for The Baron, I don’t really have much to say. It was an interesting experience, and I’m glad I’ve played it, but I don’t think it’s something I’ll remember for long.

  32. Grandstone says:

    I’m about a year late to this conversation, but how could Ramses be cathartic? It’s all about frustration.

Comment on this story

XHTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>